Disbelief. Anger. Terror. Anguish. All of these emotions rise to the surface as news breaks about another shooting. Certainly the killing of children provokes the deepest feelings. We want our children to be safe.
We cry out for action. We seek the answer to the question “why?” Why did this happen? Guns and mental health are generally highlighted as the problems. But there is another issue: one that politicians and others barely highlight.
Entertainment. Specifically, video games.
Now I want to be clear. I strongly believe in the right of free speech and expression. To me, the ability to speak freely is an absolute in any democratic society. However, when it comes to 7–16-year-olds, there must be limits to what should be presented to children. Yes, there are rating systems, but let’s be honest with ourselves. They are either not enforced or parents are too weak or too ignorant to impose them.
Concerning ratings, the Pediatrics Journal published a study about violence in movies conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center and The Ohio State University that found: “gun violence in the most popular PG-13 releases since 1985 has tripled in frequency. The number of scenes featuring gun violence in PG-13 films, the study found, has come to rival or even surpass the rate of such sequences in R-rated movies.”
The fact is video games are a $67 billion industry that is projected to increase to $82 billion by 2017. The entertainment business invests in politics and politicians big time – Hollywood fundraisers raise millions for candidates.
Our children sit in front of a screen and shoot at realistic looking images, seeing blood splatter, and gaining points and recognition for such action. Just child’s play? Is it the American way a la the Wild West and Dirty Harry? Video game gunplay for kids is realistic and thrilling. Power and justice is administered from the barrel of a gun. But is it healthy? Does it have any adverse effect on children?
Research exists that blatant violence in video games does have a negative effect on children. But nothing gets done. While it is not the primary motivator for shootings and violence, games do have a negative impact. The American Psychological Association in its publication, Gun Violence: Prediction, Prevention, and Policy, stated, “exposure to violent media, especially for youths with pre-existing aggressive tendencies and poor parental monitoring, may be an important contextual factor that amplifies risk for violent behavior and gun use.”
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry [AACAP] in its newsletters to parents Facts for Families recognizes violent video games as a factor in violent behavior in children and adolescents. The Academy states, “… Most importantly, efforts should be directed at dramatically decreasing exposure of children and adolescents to violence in the home, community, and through the media. Clearly, violence leads to violence.”
The AACAP indicates that the more realistic and repeated exposure to violence, the greater the impact on children, which leads to: immunization against the horror of violence, accepting violence as a means to solve problems, identification with violent characters, and imitating the violence they observe. Extensive viewing can cause greater aggressiveness with those children with emotional, behavioral, or learning problems.
A factor not frequently mentioned about video games is that they do not teach any moral consequences for violent behavior. In other words, there are no consequences for killing in these games, except earning game points.
Some will say that the research is inconclusive. They will cite research that will indicate no conclusive evidence about the impact of video games. There were research findings that also indicated that smoking does not cause cancer. Remember those? We learned that so-called research must be viewed with a critical eye.
But if we really care about our children, wouldn’t we protect them from events or experiences that, while “not conclusive”, are cited as a corollary negative influence. We generally protect children from environments, activities, events, experiences, medicine, or other things that are questionable when it comes to their health and safety.
Why are we reticent when it comes to video games? Why is this issue off the radar? There is little difference between the gun lobby and the entertainment business when it comes to politics. Money talks. Money buys access. Money is power. The President and Congress stand mute. Maybe that’s why no action is taken about the exposure of children to violence. Both seem to benefit financially.